Is Braga worth Visiting? The third largest city Portugal

Is Braga worth visiting Arco da Porta Nova

Most visitors flock to Porto and Lisbon in droves. Yet people are now starting to realise that there is a lot more to Portugal than the main cities and the Algarve. I’ve spent over 3 months in northern Portugal and totally love it here. Braga is Portugal’s third largest city after Porto and Lisbon. Lots of people ask me ‘is Braga worth visiting?’

I absolutely loved Braga. The city is vibrant and has some fantastic things to do. My only regret was that I did it as a day trip from Porto along with Guimarães (see my tour here), and so it was a bit rushed. A full day or even two days would be perfect. My first impression of the city was that it is an authentic and historical city, underpinned by student life and great gastronomy.

Is Braga worth visiting view from Bom Jesus
Is Braga worth visiting? I think you will agree from this view from Bom Jesus that is totally is!

Is Braga worth visiting?

Yes absolutely! It is great to see Braga if you want to go beyond Porto and Lisbon. Braga is very authentically Portuguese and it’s also a thriving University city. There are some amazing things to see and do including the famous Bom Jesus Sanctuary, Braga Sé Cathedral and the University of Mino. Braga has the added advantage of being slightly cheaper and less touristy than Porto or Lisbon, although it is fast growing in popularity.

How to get to Braga

It is easy to get to Braga from Porto and Coimbra by bus and train. The train is the quickest and most comfortable option and it can be booked here on (the official train website for Portugal). Remember that you will need to put your passport ID number in to book and carry your ID with you when you travel. You can also get to Braga from most main Portuguese cities using Flixbus, which is slightly slower and cheaper, but still relatively a comfortable option.

Flixbus Review Europe travel

How long to spend in Braga?

It is totally possible to do Braga as a day trip from Porto. You will have time to see Bom Jesus (Bragas famous hill top church), Braga cathedral and the university buildings as well as the chance to explore some bars and restaurants.

If you have two days, you can spend one full day walking up the stairs of Bom Jesus and also have time to explore the Sameiro Sanctuary (slightly higher up and behind Bom Jesus). Then on your second day you can see Braga Cathedral, Raio Palace, Igreja de Santa Cruz and Jardim de Santa Barbara.

Pros and cons of Braga

Pros of Braga

As far as Portuguese cities go, Braga is a fine example! Let’s take a look at the pros of Braga first – including its great sightseeing, a historical centre and great value for money.

Good Sightseeing and Historical Centre

Braga is a very historical city and has fantastic sightseeing including the famous Bom Jesus sanctuary and Braga Cathedral which is one of the most famous Cathedrals in the whole of Portugal (with its Baroque organ).

Braga Cathedral

Top Things to do in Braga

If you only have one day to spend in Braga, it’s always best to head straight to Bom Jesus as early as possible, and then drive, get a lift or take a bus from there to the historical centre. Bus 88 runs from the Sameiro Sanctuary to the city centre. Then, start your self guided walking tour of Braga from the City Gate – the beautiful Arco da Porta Nova.

Here are the best things to do in Braga that you should not miss…

Arco da Porta Nova

Literally translated as the arc of the new gate, this gorgeous 18th Century gateway to Braga was built in a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical style and designed by André Soares. This is the best entrance to the historical centre of Braga, and it is probably the best known landmark of the city.

Is Braga worth visiting Arco da Porta Nova
Bom Jesus

Bom Jesus is one of the most stunning examples of the Baroque style Sacri Monte (sacred mountains) that emerged in the 16th Century (although it is said that there was a chapel here even earlier than that). Similar structures include Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remedios in Lamego and the Jardim do Paco Episcopal in Castelo Branco.

Santuario do Bom Jesus do Monte Braga
Santuario do Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga, Portugal

In 1629, a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ. The present Sanctuary of Bom Jesus started being built in 1722, which included the development of the main Church and the octagonal chapels depicting the passion of Christ. The chapels at Bom Jesus contain quite graphic statues of the Crucifixion and some also show depictions of Jesus after the crucifixion including his resurrection appearance to Mary Magdelene.

capela do levantamento bom Jesus
Crucifixion scene inside Papela do Levantamento, Bom Jesus, Braga

You will also find several fountains (representing faith, hope and charity – the three Christian virtues) and a really cute grotto (very beautiful although I believe that it is man made rather than natural). It’s a good idea to plan a good few hours at Bom Jesus (I recommend 2-3 hours at least) to be able to explore and see everything. It is possible to drive to the top if you cannot manage the stairs.

Grotto Bom Jesus Braga

Bom Jesus is now classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and this is something that simply cannot be missed in Braga!

Braga Cathedral

In Portugal they have a saying – when something is really old they say “mais velhas que a Sé de Braga” which means as old as the Cathedral of Braga! That’s because it was the first ever Cathedral built in Portugal – it is famous throughout the whole country and it has been a National Monument since 1910.

Entrance to Braga Cathedral

It was built in the 11th Century in the Romanesque style of the time, but later additions have added to the intricacy of the Cathedral. For example, you can see the 14th Century crenelated tower on the North Side (Chapel of Glory) and Manueline style inside the main chapel which was built in the early 16th century. The interiors are spectacular with a gothic style altar and baroque organ.

Inside Braga Cathedral Baroque organ
Baroque interior (including organ pipes) of Sé de Braga
Jardim de Santa Barbara

After you have seen the amazing Sé de Braga, it’s time to head outside to see the beautifully kept and very colourful Jardim de Santa Barbara. The garden is so called because of the 17th century fountain that is located there which is topped by a statue of Santa Bárbara (it once belonged to the Convento dos Remédios).

University of Minho Braga
Raio Palace

Ready for more Baroque?! Head over to Raio Palace! This impressive tiled residence was built around 1752 and was recently restored in 2015. This is another example of André Soare’s architectural design – the same architect who designed Bom Jesus.

Igreja de Santa Cruz

Another architectural masterpiece that you should not miss before leaving Braga is the 17th Century Igreja de Santa Cruz, ore the Church of the Holy Cross. It originally included a college for studies of philosophy and theology under the aegis of the Jesuit Order (but the Jesuits were expelled in 1759. It was built in the Portuguese Maneirismo style and has two bell towers. Entrance is free and donations are appreciated.

Modern Art in Braga

Braga is not just for the history buffs, there also a few interesting takes on Modern Art dotted around the city. Check out this bronze dragon sculpture by Aureliano Aguiar, standing over a fountain!

Dragon Sculpture Braga Portugal

Great Value for Money

You will find Braga great value for money – it is slightly cheaper than Porto and Lisbon on accommodation, food and drink. As it is a student city (like Coimbra), along with the students come the cheap bars!

Low Crime rate and Accepting of Foreigners

Braga is a safe city with a low crime rate, and as a foreigner you will find that you can easily fit in. The people in Braga are liberal and accepting. It is a popular option for foreigners who want to move to Portugal and set up business here, without the business and expense of Porto or Lisbon.

Excellent Local Food

Of course, everywhere you go in Portugal you will get amazing food to be honest! But in Braga they have a couple of local speciality dishes that you should try while you are there…

  • Caldo Verde – Traditional Braga green soup with potatoes, kale and chorizo.
  • Broa de Milho Comido No Outono – Traditional Braga winter bread and great with Caldo Verde!
  • Bacalhau de Braga – Traditional Portuguese Cod fish cooked Braga style.
  • Pudim à Abade de Priscos – A sweet, sticky and delicious pudding!

Avoid the hills – Braga is flat!

Now for the great news – Braga is realtively flat! This was totally refreshing for me after my calf muscles felt like they had been through the mill in Porto and Lisbon! Yes, it is common for Portuguese cities to be very hilly, and you need a lot of stamina to walk around them – this was also the case in my University city of Coimbra. Other than walking up to Bom Jesus, Braga is flatter and therefore less harsh on your legs, and overall slightly more accessible. Still, get your walking boots on – there is a lot of ground to cover.

University of Minho Braga
University of Minho, Braga

Cons of Braga

Although Braga is a fantastic city, with any city there are a few things to be aware of. The weather can be poor in winter, there are fewer digital nomad cafes and there are more smokers than you would probably find in UK and USA cities.

Weather is poor in Winter

In the North of Portugal, you can’t count on the weather being that great. It’s quite cold in the winter months of December and January. Also when it rains, the streets can be a little slippy so good walking boots are essential.

Not as many cafes as Lisbon, Porto or Coimbra

Braga is a great city, but it’s not as nomad friendly as Lisbon and Porto. There are fewer cafes and some are not laptop friendly. If you are unsure, please just ask – it’s better than being told off for getting your computer out when you sit down!

Braga has many Smokers

One of the downsides to Braga is that you will find a lot of smokers there – not always great if you are asthmatic, like me. You will be pleased to know that it is not allowed in the restaurants in Portugal, but often outside cafes have ash trays in Braga, and the smoking is more noticeable than in the UK. It’s a good idea to sit inside if this bothers you, as most smoking areas are outside in Portugal.

Braga Portugal

Overall Verdict – Is Braga worth visiting?

So, overall, is Braga worth visiting? Absolutely! I love to get off the beaten track in Portugal, but saying that, Braga is a happy medium between the little towns and villages and the hustle and bustle of Lisbon or Porto. I often judge a city by weather or not I could live there – and as for Braga, I totally could! If you are looking for a vibrant Portuguese city with plenty of historical sites, beautiful Churches and great surrounding areas then Braga is for you.

Portuguese tiled buildings Braga

Onward Travel from Braga and Further Reading

Braga is well situated for taking day trips and also for onward travel. Many people visit Guimarães as a day trip from Braga to see its 10th Century Castle and the Romanesque São Miguel do Castelo Church. Other popular onward travel destinations include Vila Real, Guarda, Viseu and Coimbra. You might also find the following articles helpful for planning your Portugal itinerary…